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Elder Macarius

(November 20, 1788 – September 7, 1860)

Commemorated on September 7

Elder Macarius, born Michael Nikolaevich Ivanov in Orlov province near Kaluga, was raised in a noble family. He spent his youth reading many books and developed a wide breadth of theological understanding. He enjoyed nature, loved music, and played the violin well. He was not favored with good looks and never tried to marry. He was of medium height, and his face showed traces of smallpox.

In 1810, at the age of twenty-two, he went on a pilgrimage to the Ploshchansk Hermitage and at this time decided to dedicate his life to God. Here Michael came under the obedience of Fr. Athanassy, a disciple of St. Paisius Velichkovsky. In 1815, he was tonsured a monk and given the name Macarius after St. Macarius the Great. In 1824, his elder died, and he was sent to be the confessor of the Svensk women’s monastery. It was here at Svensk that Fr. Macarius met Elder Leonid. He asked Elder Leonid if he could become his disciple and although Elder Leonid considered Fr. Macarius his peer in monasticism, in humility, he yielded to his request. Shortly after that, Elder Leonid was sent to the Optina Skete and Fr. Macarius corresponded with him until he also moved there to share the work of eldership in 1834.

When Elder Macarius arrived at Optina, Elder Leonid was living in the skete along with Elder Moses and Elder Anthony. In 1836, he was made confessor of the whole monastery and then Skete Superior. Elder Macarius kept himself in constant obedience to Elder Leonid never doing anything without a blessing and endured all things with humility and patience. Elder Leonid offered him many opportunities to do so.

Elder Macarius was always to be found with Elder Leonid. They directed the spiritual life of the monks as well as thousands of visitors. Together they “brought up” Elder Ambrose. They were of such oneness of mind that when Fr. Macarius was asked for counsel regarding anything he would not reply without first consulting Elder Leonid and vice versa.

In 1841, Elder Leonid reposed; Elder Macarius wrote his obituary. That year he took over the responsibilities of the skete. As rector, he enhanced the solemnity of the services and also created a rich library. He would rise at 2 a.m. for four hours of prayers then afterward would sit at his work table to translate or revise Patristic texts. At this time he would also engage in correspondence. In the afternoon at 2 p.m. he would accept visitors, meeting them in the guest house at the entrance of the skete, and after supper and evening prayers, he would continue with his written correspondence. People were anointed from the lampada that burned in his cell in front of the Vladimir icon, in his cell and through this many were healed of sickness and demon possession.

The publications at Optina Monastery of a series of Patristic texts on the spiritual life began with Elder Macarius urged by his friend and spiritual son, Ivan Kireyevsky. These publications were launched in 1846 with the life of Elder Paisius Velichkovsky and would grow from there. In most cases, the works were revisions of the Slavonic texts from the Neamts Monastery from the time of St. Paisius and translated into Russian. Through these publications, Optina became known to the intellectual elite of Russia and drew them to itself.

Much profit came to the whole church through Optina at this time, but much persecution also came to Elder Macarius. He was accused of spreading the teaching of the Jesus Prayer when others opposed it based on the mistaken belief that it would give rise to spiritual delusion. Talk began of transferring him to another monastery. During this time he became very sick. During his final illness, he often handed out little crosses,  icons or books as a blessing. On September 7, 1960, after receiving Holy Communion at 6 a.m. and saying “Glory to Thee, our God!” thrice, he fell asleep in the Lord having been forewarned of this beforehand. His body remained incorrupt.

Sayings of Elder Macarius of Optina

The Knowledge of God

If we strive to cleanse our hearts from the passions, then according to the amount that we have purified ourselves, Divine Grace will open the eyes of our hearts to the vision of the True Light; for as it is written, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8), but only when we perfect ourselves through humility, for through humility the mysteries are revealed.

On Forests

Man finds peace of mind and benefit for his soul in forests. We see that in former times people used to withdraw into thick forests, and there, away from worldly vanity, through prayer and ascetic labor, sought salvation. Just one look at the evergreen conifers of our homeland gladdens the eyes, portraying a symbol of our hope for eternal life, which people go to the deserts to seek… The forests which surround our monasteries should be preserved from destruction by all means, in order to prevent the word “wilderness” from finally losing its meaning.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long

 

Bibliography

Kavelin, Fr. Leonid, Elder Macarius of Optina (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995).

Kontzevitch, I.M., “Elder Macarius of Optina” in The Orthodox Word (January-February, 1986): 11-22.

Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).

Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” at http://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.

Sederholm, Fr. Clement, Elder Leonid of Optina (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2002).

Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).

 

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Elder Leonid

(1768 – October 11, 1841)

Commemorated on October 11

 

Southwest of Moscow, in the city of Karachev, was born Leo Danilevich Nagolkin, the future Elder Leonid. Little is known of his early life except for an incident during which he was carting flax to a neighboring city and was attacked by a wolf. He managed to fight off the wolf with his bare hands but was left lame for the rest of his life after the wolf tore a large portion of flesh from his leg.

Leo began his monastic life in Optina but then moved to the White Bluff Hermitage where he was tonsured and given the name Leonid. He then went on to stay at the Chelnsky monastery where he met Fr. Theodore of Svir who had learned the monastic life under St. Paisius Velichkovsky. From Fr. Theodore, Fr. Leonid learned the “science of science and art of arts,” the labour of unceasing prayer. These holy men were together for nearly twenty years. After Fr. Theodore’s repose, Fr. Leonid went to the St. Alexander of Svir Monastery and the Ploschansk monastery, where the future Elder Macarius also lived. In 1829, after thirty years of ascetic experience, he came to Optina at the invitation of Bishop Philaret of Kaluga and Abbot Moses. Here, he began the line of the great Elders of Optina.

At sixty-one years old he is described as a “tall, majestic man, who had in his youth acquired strength of mythic proportions and had, even in his old age, graceful movements despite his portliness” (which was due to hypothyroidism). He is noted as being full of pity and love for mankind but at other times he would act abruptly.

Wherever he was placed, he was flocked with visitors looking for healing or comfort for their ailing souls. From morning to late at night his cell was filled with people looking for spiritual care. His life contains many examples of how this rigorous ascetic would, with gentleness and profound spiritual jokes help people who came to him from outside the monastery. He was clairvoyant and healed people. He had a “different” kind of simplicity and so was able to attract people from all walks of life. The people appreciated his jokes and proverbs which made more sense to them than most academic instructions.

During Elder Leonid’s time at Optina, suspicions arose accusing him of holding views that were unorthodox and bordered on heresy. (To place this persecution in perspective, we should recall that during this time the monasteries were just beginning to be repopulated after the general monastic persecutions of Peter I through Catherine II. As a result most knew very little about eldership and the “source material” on this until it was disseminated by St. Paisius and his disciples). Because of this, Elder Leonid was forbidden to receive any further visitors. Soon his spiritual children began to be also persecuted as were the nuns who were under his care. Much grief was caused to the Elder in his God-pleasing work. Despite the persecution, the care of the brethren of the Optina Monastery was given into the hands of Elder Leonid by its Abbot, Fr. Moses. Fr. Moses only took care of the administrative aspect of the monastery and placed the spiritual responsibility totally on the shoulders of Elder Leonid. Due to increased persecutions of the Elder, he was relocated from the Skete to a cell in the main monastery and was frequently moved to different cells. He took all of this in good humor, carrying the icon of the Vladimir Mother of God given to him by St. Paisius around to each new cell.

In early September 1841, after being at Optina for twelve years the Elder fell ill. He reposed after much suffering, with his cell attendant at his side.

Sayings of Elder Leonid of Optina

On Prayer

Whoever the Lord visits with a difficult ordeal, sorrow, the bereavement of a dearly beloved one, such a person involuntarily prays with all his heart, all his understanding, all of his mind. Consequently, there is a wellspring of prayer in everyone, but it is revealed either by gradually going deeper and deeper into yourself, according to the teaching of the fathers or by a sudden Divine drilling into one’s soul.

Humility

For us who seek salvation, what is most needed in fulfilling the Divine commandments is humility, which attracts to us Divine Grace and illumines all our actions. But without it, no ascetical struggles and labors can bring us much-desired peace.

Hope in God

Be brave and firm in spirit in your faith and hope in the mercies of the gracious Lord that in the situations that seem to be opposing us He is working out our salvation. Acknowledge your weakness and your failure to submit to the will of God and to fulfill His commandments. From this acknowledgment you will obtain humility for yourself and you will see the help of God.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long

 

Bibliography

Kontzevitch, I.M. “The Great Elder Leonid of Optina (Leo in Schema)” in The Orthodox Word (March-April, 1985): 56-70.

Kontzevitch, I.M. “Optina Monastery and Its Elders” in The Orthodox Word (July-August, 1984): 156-162.

Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).

Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” athttp://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.

Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).

Sederholm, Fr. Clement. Elder Leonid of Optina (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2002).

Smolych, I.K., The Era of the Optina Elders on the official site of Optina Monastery athttp://www.optina.ru/041113/, accessed on Dec. 17, 2013 (in Russian).

 

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elder anthony

Elder Anthony

(March 9, 1795 – August 7, 1865)

Commemorated on August 7

    Responding to a letter from his older brother who was then at Sarov Monastery, the future Elder Anthony wrote: “One of the books you sent me greatly impressed me, and I want to follow a rule from it, which is: To hold the world in contempt and to seek the heavenly Kingdom as the highest wisdom. By stillness and silence, the pious soul is greatly strengthened and understands the mysteries of the Scripture. Thus, if anyone abandons the world, God, and His holy angels will visit him. I wish and desire to be as you are…”

Born Alexander Ivanovich Putilov, brother to Elder Moses, the future Elder Anthony, from his childhood was inclined towards monasticism. He was sick for most of his life. As a youth, he almost drowned, once he cracked his skull and his life was in danger ten times. Later in life, he would develop sores on his legs which were constantly painful and drained frequently; they would open up to the point of exposing the bone even.

Desiring to be like his brother, Alexander left to live with the Roslavl forest ascetics and placed himself under obedience to Moses. It was here that he learned the monastic life. When Elder Moses left to establish the Skete at Optina, Elder Anthony went with him. In 1825, at the age of thirty, the elder became the Abbot of the Optina Skete. It is said that there was no one more humble than Elder Anthony.  He would not give any orders without the blessing of his older brother. Under his guidance, the skete became a magnet drawing men of spiritual inclination.

Life at Optina was difficult for him. He did not have a cell attendant and therefore had to complete many tasks such as the cooking, gardening and baking himself. The flourishing of eldership in the Skete was due to these brother Elders, Moses and Anthony. They planted it there but also nourished it by bringing Elders Leonid and Macarius to live with them and supporting them in every way possible. Elder Macarius would say of Elder Anthony that “both in rank and in spirit [he is] wiser than myself.” Elder Anthony was known to be very tender and full of compassion.

With the growth of the Skete came many trials and temptations. Due to the sores on his legs, there were times when he was not even able to leave his cell; he, therefore, committed himself to more reading and prayer until he had the strength for work. The work of eldership in the skete was opposed by Bishop Nicholas of Kaluga that is why Bishop Nicholas appointed Elder Anthony to the Abbacy of the St. Nicholas of Maloyaroslavets monastery in 1835. The monks there lacked fervor and unity, and this was a great trial for Elder Anthony. He was the Abbot here for fourteen years and became so sick that many times he would give orders while lying down. In 1859 he came back to Optina.

Elder Moses reposed in 1862, and Elder Anthony remained in seclusion for a year afterward. If anyone mentioned his brother’s repose, he would begin to cry. His increasing infirmities left him bound to his cell where he devoted himself entirely to prayer.

In 1864, foreseeing his repose, he informed his spiritual children of the same in discrete ways. He began to struggle – to labor in prayer despite increasing pain and to attend the church services.  He had a sign hung up over his bed that read “Don’t waste time!” and would tell those that came to visit him, “Here I am at the beginning.”

On the last day of his life on earth, he received the blessing of Abbot Isaac and then reposed.

Sayings of Elder Anthony of Optina

 On Thoughts

Do not be confused because dark thoughts often trouble you, for dark thoughts, like autumn clouds, come one after another and darken everything. But then they pass, and the sky remains clear and pleasant. And so our thoughts wander, they wander around the wide world, but the mind remains planted in its place, and then it is quiet, and the soul becomes joyful. But our mind, from wandering here and there, becomes accustomed to the brief but often repeated Prayer of Jesus, which may God grant you the habit of saying, and then your days will be bright.

On Prayer

According to your wish, I am sending you a prayer rope for use in your cell. Pray fervently to the Lord God and your cold heart will be warmed by His sweetest name, for our God is fire. This cry destroys impure dreams and warms the heart for all His commandments. For this reason, the prayerful calling upon His sweetest name must be the breath of our soul, must be more frequent than the beating of our heart.

Learning and the Ascetic Life

Purify your heart and you will learn everything.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long

___________________

 Bibliography

Kontzevitch, I.M. “The life of Hegumen Anthony, Founder of the Skete at Optina (+1821)” in Orthodox Life (March-April, 1990):3-7.

Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).

Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).

Sederholm, Fr. Clement. Elder Anthony of Optina (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood: Platina, 1994)

Smolych, I.K., The Era of the Optina Elders on the official site of Optina Monastery at HTTP://www.optina.ru/041113/, accessed on Dec. 17, 2013 (in Russian).

St. Anthony of Optina: Short Life at http://www.optina.ru/starets/antoniy_life_short/, accessed on Dec. 17, 2013 (in Russian).

Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” at http://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.

 

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Below you will find the first in a series of posts concerning the Optina Elders, what I have labelled ‘A Holy Heritage’. Our dear friend, Subdeacon Matthew Long, has taken the time to compile mini-bios and sayings of the Optina Elders. He has graciously shared them with me so I can share them with you, my readers. I hope and pray this will be an opportunity for us to learn more about the saints God has revealed even in these modern times.

For those wishing to learn more about the holy Optina Elders, you can check out the book series published by St. Herman’s Press.

elder moses

Elder Moses

(January 15, 1782 – June 16, 1862) 

Commemorated on June 16

 First in the line of Optina Elders is Moses, born Timothy Putilov. He and two brothers became monks and later abbots at different monasteries. On their father’s gravestone was written: “He was the father of three abbots: Moses of Optina, Isaiah of Sarov, and Antony of St. Nicholas Monastery of Little Varoslavetz.” He was always an avid reader which nurtured in him the desire for the monastic life. As a young man, he was influenced by Eldress Dosithea of the Moscow Ivanovsky Convent and under her encouragement he set out for the Novo-Spassky Monastery. Later he went to Sarov Monastery where St. Seraphim had been struggling for thirty-seven years already. Here, young Timothy had many occasions to talk with the experienced Elder. He left Sarov for the Svensk Monastery where he was made a novice and then in 1811 he was tonsured a monk in the Roslavl forests by the eldest of the anchorites there, Hiero-schemamonk Athanasy. He was given the name Moses after St. Moses, the Ethiopian. He would stay in these forests continuing under the tutelage of the disciples of the Moldavian Elder, Paisius Velichkovsky, who grew to greater influence amongst monastics in Russia and even further abroad. In the Roslavl forests, Fr. Moses’ main occupation, apart from his rigorous cell rule, was the reading and copying of many texts of the Church Fathers. He copied many translations from books which had been copied by Elder Paisius Velichkovsky, and he also compiled volumes of anthologies. Interestingly, he always stood when he read and wrote.

In 1821, at the invitation of Bishop Philaret of Kaluga, he was invited to create a skete at Optina for those who wanted to devote themselves more completely to prayer, later to be known as the Skete of Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord. He arrived there with his younger brother, Fr. Anthony, and three other monks. Five years later, in 1826, he was appointed Abbot of the whole monastery and then shortly after that invited Fr. Leonid – another Paisian disciple whom he had met and lived with earlier in his life – to come and live in the Skete. In 1834, Hieromonk Macarius (Ivanov) accepted an invitation to settle in the Skete with Fr. Leonid. With these two elders began the establishment and growth of eldership.

The Optina skete and monastery were revived under the supervision of Elder Moses with the building of the St. Mary of Egypt refectory church, more cells, a library, apiary and various other buildings. More importantly, though, was the spiritual flowering of the monastery the preservation of the ancient wisdom of monasticism, fostered under his guidance. With the rise of eldership persecution also came from those who did not understand it. Despite the persecution, Elder Moses firmly supported Elders Leonid and Makary and did all he could to protect them. Elder Moses himself depended on them in the daily running of the monastery. He would not accept or tonsure anyone without their advice. From them, he constantly sought direction and had Fr. Leonid as his confessor. The crowds of people seeking help from these Elders for their troubled souls grew steadily.

In 1862, after reviving the life at the Optina Monastery and establishing Eldership in the Skete life of Optina, Elder Moses reposed. At the time of his repose was read, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works. Amen, I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His Kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28). His body was later found to be incorrupt.

 Sayings of Elder Moses of Optina

On being grieved by others

We must bear one another’s spiritual infirmities cheerfully, without bitterness. After all, if someone is physically ill, not only are we not offended with him, but we even help him in any way we can. That is how we must treat spiritual illnesses also.

On nurturing the fear of God

Moreover, truly we need only ceaselessly keep watch and be prepared, as if mentally on the lookout, beholding God’s omnipresence with the eye of our intellect and reflecting that He dwells not outside us only, but also within us, in our heart, in our soul as in His temple. It is in this spiritual practice that the fear of God consists. For one who knows with an exactness that God is everywhere present, that He sees all his thoughts and that he tries his heart and reins – such a one will fear not only to do evil but even to think evil.

Patience

We must thank the Lord for everything, the labor which he imposes on us to teach us patience, which ennobles the soul and is more beneficial for us than comfort. Evidently, this is pleasing to the Lord. Sorrows cannot befall us except through God’s permission – for the sake of our sins. Moreover, these very sorrows protect us from other temptations.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long

___________________

Bibliography

Clare, Fr. Theodosius, Glinsk Patericon (Wildwood: St. Xenia Skete, 1984).

Holy Trinity Convent (trans.) The Elder Moses of Optina (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1996).

Kontzevitch, I.M. “Abbot Moses: the Builder of the Optina Tradition” in The Orthodox Word (May-June, 1985): 125-128.

“Life in the Forrest by Abbot Moses of Optina” in The Orthodox Word (May-June, 1985): 129-135.

Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).

Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” at http://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.

Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).

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